The Burleson Community Emergency Response Team is thriving and looking to expand
The Burleson CERT program, which has grown 81% in 2023, is working to achieve its "biggest goal" of expanding beyond Burleson to encompass all of Johnson County
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When disaster strikes, communities are reminded why its first-responders are so important. Some disasters can require more than first-responders though. If such a disaster ever strikes Burleson, the community will be ready because of its Community Emergency Response Team.
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The Burleson Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is a group of disaster response-trained volunteers ready to serve the community when they’re needed.
CERT is an extension of response for Burleson and a way to involve citizens in “hero stuff,” Joe Laster, Burleson emergency operations manager, says.
Burleson CERT is thriving, Laster says, as it’s grown 81% to 38 members in 2023. The program now offers two annual trainings and condensed training for private businesses after originally offering one annual training.
Even with its growth, Burleson CERT is “always looking for more members,” Laster said. Laster added that the program looks for members from everywhere, not just those living in Burleson.
“Our biggest goal in the CERT program is to educate the community on disaster-preparedness and expand CERT from Burleson down south to encompass Johnson County,” Laster says.
Burleson CERT’s volunteers are “everyday people,” Laster says, including bankers, graphic designers and retired first-responders and nurses.
“No matter what your age is and no matter what your abilities are, we’ll find something for you to do,” Laster says.
While each volunteer has their own reasons for joining CERT, a common reason Laster sees is people joining to participate in an emergency-service role without sacrificing their day-job and lifestyle.
Burleson CERT volunteers have helped Burleson with search-and-rescue missions for children and helped when a storm in Summer 2023 took out power lines.
The volunteers also assist the Burleson Fire Department at community events, including the “Hot Sounds of Summer” concert series in 2023, teach disaster-prep classes and provide services to businesses and nonprofits including the Center for ASD.
Those interested in joining can expect a three-day FEMA-based training in first-aid, disaster-prep, fire-safety, utility-control and search-and-rescue to earn a CERT-member certificate from the state.
Laster has led the revitalization of the CERT program since Burleson hired him in January to oversee it after it was “destroyed” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overseeing CERT has been rewarding for Laster, but he couldn’t have done it without his “right hand,” Griselda Finestead, Laster says.
Finestead, now a Burleson CERT program manager, originally joined the program as a volunteer in 2005 to learn how to protect her family as a stay-at-home pregnant mother of two.
When Finestead joined CERT she learned what she now wants everyone else to know – that CERT is an avenue to help yourself. As a program manager now, she believes her job is to empower other CERT members.
“It’s wonderful to rely on other people, say, first responders, but I know it’s empowering to be able to help yourself,” Finestead said. “A lot of people want to be able to do that but don’t have the training, and that’s where we come in.”
Burleson CERT’s next basic training will be February 23 through February 25. Those interested in joining can email email@example.com.